Hong Kong is experiencing an alarming flu season at the beginning of 2019. In the first four weeks of this year, there were more than 520 flu-like outbreaks reported at schools and at residential homes for the elderly and disabled – affecting about 3,200 people. Over 70 percent of the outbreak cases came from kindergartens or child care centers. The lingering threat of a flu pandemic justifies a high level of vigilance by the health authority as well as by the citizenry.
All the kindergartens and childcare centers in the city had a slightly longer holiday break when health authorities told them to close for a week prior to the Chinese New Year to prevent further spread of the disease.
As some of the kindergartens resume classes on Monday, some parents were seen to prepare masks and hand sanitizer to protect their children from the virus. This level of vigilance should be maintained not only for the well-being of our children, but also to relieve the demand on the resource-strained public hospital system.
The government took swift action last month to pledge HK$500 million to support the Hospital Authority in its effort to fight the winter flu. Notwithstanding that the funding is meant to give the Hospital Authority more resources to adopt measures to relieve pressure on frontline healthcare workers, recent figures show that resource scarcity remains to be addressed in public hospitals. For instance, the medical inpatient bed occupancy rate on last Sunday midnight reached an average of 107 percent among all public hospitals. With the exception of Queen Mary Hospital, all the others were above 101 percent; the figure for United Christian Hospital in Kwun Tong was at an overwhelming 124 percent.
These numbers indicate that the effect of peak flu season continues to exert pressure on the already understaffed public hospital system, which means that the public should not let down their guard during the post-holiday season. Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee acknowledged the severity of the flu, stating that local influenza activity remains high despite showing a trend of recession.
Consequently, a list of preventive measures should be in place to reduce the number of infections. Kindergartens and childcare centers are still at risk and should continue to closely monitor whether there is a major outbreak. The general public should pay attention to basic hygiene practice, such as wash hand frequently and use bleach to disinfect their household etc. Children, elderly and people with impaired immunity should seek flu vaccination if they have not received any this year.
On the other hand, a chronic shortage of manpower in public hospitals has yet to be tackled. Besides the option of hiring part-time and temporary doctors and nurses, the government should seriously consider introducing overseas doctors and medical staff. Senior medical staff can also participate in a special remunerative scheme as an incentive to handle increased patient loads. Adopting these measures will relieve the burden on our healthcare system in the long term.
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